We Won’t Get Punk’d Again?

In the old days, I would have written my annual April Fool’s column a few weeks ago. Made up some patently absurd, playfully deceitful premise. Spent 600 words trying to suspend everyone’s disbelief. Selling the ol’ presumptive close. Not allowing anyone to buy into the notion that they hadn’t already bought in.

In the end, I would have confessed I was kidding. We would have laughed. Then gotten on with the business at hand – serious real estate.

But those were the old days. These days? I’m not sure who’s fooling who anymore. What’s serious. What’s not.

We’re well into April and the rites of spring. Hopefully headed for showers of new activity and a vibrant, blossoming marketplace. But I can’t shake the feeling that there’s still some kind of joke lying in wait out there. Preparing to yank our chains. Trying its darnedest to fool some of the people all of the time and at least all of the people some of the time.

Including me. Recovery? Presto change-o. Now you see it. Now you don’t.

When I look at the layered vagaries buyers and sellers are experiencing, consider the potential good news that’s welling up in the wings and then juxtapose the whole kit and kaboodle of high weirdness that continues to roil around in the wake of the bust all I can say is: a) Folks, I couldn’t make this stuff up. b) Realty is stranger than fiction. c) My belief that anything definitive can be said about the market is officially suspended.

Just warning you. If real estate wakes up six months from now and the volume is cranked up on “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” and one of the seemingly endless pantheon of two-faced, real estate trickster gods jumps out from behind door number three masquerading as Ashton Kutcher shouting “You’ve been punk’d!” … don’t pretend there wasn’t anything to be slightly suspicious about all along.

Then again…maybe real estate will be safely awash in throngs of Facebook Millionaires by that time! Apple shares will be trading at a thousand! Buying and selling houses will be the talk of the town! We’ll be headed merrily in the direction of another robust run up! Money talking! Bullsh*t walking!

Even if the long boom never lasts as long as promised. And towards the end of every cycle the bull always talks while money takes a hike.

If we’ve just opened escrow on the real estate recovery, we better strap in. Shaky deal ahead with plenty of twists and turns. More ups and downs than Mr Toad’s Wild Ride.

Depending on where you look and what angle you look from, there’s a good news/bad news whammy attached to just about everything the market has to offer.

Buyers? Good news! Incredibly low interest rates! The Case-Shiller Index says prices are down 40% from the peak! It’s spring! More listings coming on!

Bad news? The loan process can still resemble a Guantanamo waterboarding experience. Inventory sucks. Anything decent is getting snapped up with multiple offers in a week.

Sellers? Good news! Multiple offers left and right! Bad news? See above – re: Case-Shiller Index.

First time buyers? Here’s a special introductory conundrum for you. You can probably own for less than you pay in rent. Catch? You’ll be competing with all-cash investors for quite awhile.

All this. And more.

Last week’s TIME Magazine piece was: Recovery for Real? …surprising signs – like underwear sales – that point to yes. Apparently there’s been a 6.6% jump in the Underwear Sales Index, once made famous by Alan Greenspan. Bad news? Per tooth payouts from the tooth fairy fell more than 17% last year. I kid you not.

Given this kind of definitive news, we should probably move forward with cautious optimism. Keep an eye out. Make sure Ashton Kutcher doesn’t jump out dressed like the tooth fairy and pull the underwear over our heads again.

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